Steffanie Rivers

*What would you do if your home, and the homes of a few thousand other residents in your city, had been destroyed by a tornado that killed three hundred people and left nearly everyone else homeless? You probably would get in line for one of those mobile homes provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for emergency housing. That way you can check off housing from your list of things to do immediately. But if you live in Cordova, Alabama near Tuscaloosa where a tornado ripped through the area in April you can not
check off housing from your list just yet.

That’s because a city ordinace has banned the use of single-wide trailers – like the ones FEMA
provides – for residential use. And Cordova Mayor Jack Scott has no plans to make an aftermath of a tornado an exception to the rule. Nearly all of the 2,000 residents in Cordova were affected by the tornado. So you don’t have to look far to find disgruntled homeless people speaking out at town meetings and signing petitions to get the mayor removed from office. But so far the mayor has turned a deaf ear to the complaints. It’s bad enough that Mayor Scott
doesn’t show compassion towards his own constituents, but to make matters worse the local police department, city hall offices and a few other businesses have moved into those same FEMA trailers that have been banned by the mayor. His excuse? Businesses need to be reopened so the city can start to recover?

But if I remember correctly from pychology 101 class, housing (along with food and clothing) is the foundation of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs pyramid. So if nobody has a place to live or food to eat or clothes to put on their backs there won’t be a need for police, city hall or any other business. Without people the mayor will have nobody to govern. Mayor Scott says the use of emergency mobile homes is not a good look in Cordova. Double-wide trailers are permitted, but those single-wide FEMA trailers? They are not having it. Go figure!

The FEMA trailers are supposed to be used for up to 18 months after a natural disaster to give local residents time to secure permanent housing. But Scott says he fears Cordova residents will live in the trailers long-term. And he used Louisiana residents affected by Hurricane Katrina as an example, some of which are still living in the temporary trailers going on six years later.

Okay, a few people probably are taking advantage of the system. But I’m sure some of those Hurricane Katrina victims have remained in the FEMA trailers out of neccesity, not because they have become enamored with their single-wide trailer
accommodations. Living in Dallas, I know plenty of former New Orleans residents who still are waiting for their insurance companies to pay off their homeowners’ policies or their insurance companies have refused to pay altogether. So those people won’t be able to rebuild their homes. And the one’s who can rebuild are so dissatisfied with the sluggish recovery of city services
there – simple things such as regular trash pick-up and reliable public transportation – they have chosen to relocate to other cities for good. Unfortunately some people don’t have the money, the family connections or the resourcefulness to relocate.

The fact that FEMA is ready and willing to provide housing to help Cordova residents start to rebuild their lives is commendable. To find out that Cordova’s mayor has turned his back on a chance to restore the tax base to the city is a sad commentary to the viability of his town and it’s a smack in the face of common sense. This time next year Cordova’s 2,000 displaced residents probably will have moved on, which means there probably won’t be a Cordova or a need for a mayor.

Steffanie is a freelance journalist. Send questions, comments or requests for speaking engagements to Steffanie at [email protected]. And see the video version of her journal at